What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety is a normal, adaptive part of the human experience. However, sometimes anxiety becomes irrational or excessive and interferes with one’s daily functioning and quality of life. When this happens, an individual may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are a group of conditions characterized by excessive, unhelpful fear or worry that can be related to a variety of triggers. The feeling of anxiety affects thoughts, physiological arousal, and behavior. Often, thoughts about the feared item or situation become overwhelming and a negative outcome can seem both certain and catastrophic. Meanwhile, the brain instinctively prepares the body to meet perceived danger in various ways that lead to the bodily sensations we experience when afraid (e.g., racing pulse, hyperventilation, tense muscles). When someone is experiencing this level of anxiety, they will often attempt to avoid or escape the source of fear or anything related to it. This can lead to avoidance of activities that are part of necessary or enjoyable daily activities, such as going to school/work or spending time with friends and loved ones. While avoidance leads to a decrease in fear in the moment, it generally increases fear over time because it reinforces the idea that the avoided object/situation actually is dangerous. Anxiety Disorder categories include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder (with/without Agoraphobia), Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder, and Specific Phobias.